New items continually appear, in this country and elsewhere, having to do with the importance of maintaining separation of church and state. Many such items have been included for comment on this program. Also, during the last few weeks I have reported as much as the news dispatches revealed regarding the running feud between President Peron of Argentina and the Catholic Church down there. This feud has come to something of a head in that country, and the two items of freedom of religion and church-state rivalry in Argentina come to a focus in this week’s events.
Briefly stated the facts are these. Eight years ago the Catholic Church in Argentina championed the Peronista cause in the elections in return for something of a monopoly of religious education in the nation’s schools. The vote of the church resulted in a Peron victory and his entrenchment as head of the government. Some months ago Peron decided that indoctrination for the new Argentine state must start with the children, and he set out to gain the good will of teenagers, setting up the Union of Secondary School Students, and obtaining for them sports fields, rest centers, and hotels, and finally opened his summer residence as headquarters of the girl’s branch. Speedboats, motorcars, ballet shows, theatrical performances, and balls were provided, all without cost to the children. He not only permits, but also encourages, boys and girls to mix freely at these events. To the Catholics, this was nothing but a return to paganism, and to counteract the President’s influence among the young, it established the Union of Catholic Students.
In the meantime, the Catholics had tried, and to a certain extent succeeded, in building up their own trade unions and getting vacation for workers, as well as other working condition benefits. In Cordoba, their efforts went so far as to establish a basis for a Christian Democratic Party.
Last November 10 was a turning point between Peron and the Catholics. On that day Peron held a regular meeting with the provincial governors and asked them to report on Catholic activities throughout the country. This report has never been published in full, but shortly after the meeting the president made a speech which was duly recorded and broadcast over a national radio hook-up. In it he referred to Catholic infiltration in the Peronista movement, and said, “We shall take steps to see that the authority of the state prevails and expect the church to take measures to make offenders abide by the laws.” He went on to warn that unless Catholic groups conformed to his decrees, the churches would be closed and the members charged with unlawful association.
The church leaders retorted with a pastoral letter read in all churches in which they asked the faithful to adhere to their religious principles. Privately they sent a letter to Peron asking him to present evidence of his charges against them. Two months later it was clear that the government had won and the church had lost. Peron drove through Congress a bill permitting divorce; the police put some 15 priests in prison; such inroads have been made in the schools that religious education there now is all but an empty phrase; and processions and public meetings of a religious nature were banned. And within the last ten days, the Catholic newspaper El Pueblo, the only Roman Catholic daily, has been seized and its editor released on bail. The excuse this time was nonpayment of an employee bonus, which was not yet due at the time of the seizure.
These are the facts, and their implications are clear. The Argentine Constitution declares that church and state there are inseparable, and the result has been a conquest of the church by the state. Our own Constitution declares that church and state shall be separate, and both have flourished side by side under that Constitution for 166 years now, without either coming under the domination of the other. Let us keep it that way. Our system has admittedly not operated perfectly. At times less than justice has been done to unpopular and weak sects; and there are those among us who would inject religious education into public schools. But it would be far better to omit such from the schools at all than to find our whole religious framework under the dictation of the state, as is the case now in Argentina.
Sharing a considerable portion of the spotlight on the news this week have been a barrage of comments on our present so-called security system. People of religious convictions have reason to be concerned about having an effective security program, because religion in this country has had an independence and growth unrivaled by any other country. People of religious interests also have a natural concern about the protection of individual rights within that security system, for among those rights are freedom of speech and religion, both indispensable to religious development.
Out of the welter of viewpoints about the security system, these seem to be the major items: Freedom House in New York wrote the president urging that he appoint a commission to determine whether our security policies and measures are retarding us in our effort to keep ahead of the Soviet technology.
One of Mr. Eisenhower’s appointees to the Subversive Activities Control Board, the former Senator Cain of Washington, issued a statement saying that the security system as now administered fails to balance security and justice, citing the case of ousted Wolf Ladejinksy as an example. (Mr. Ladejinksy’s case was treated in some detail on this program two weeks ago.) Senator Cain used strong language in his indictment of present practices, saying, “The Ladejinsky case points up practically every weakness which we can find or trace in our prevailing security system. It includes evidences of shortsightedness, ruthlessness, smugness, and brutality of bureaucracy at its worst.” He goes on to observe that he cannot see why Ladejinksy could both a risk and not a risk at the same time.
Rep. Frelinghuysen, Republican of New Jersey, asked the president to establish a non-partisan commission to review the whole security program.
The Department of State informed Democratic Senator [?] of South Carolina by letter that none of the persons investigated by the former Tydings Committee have been found guilty of being either communists or disloyal. This is the committee whose work was constantly attacked by Sen. McCarthy, who repeatedly accused the persons mentioned therein and who have now been investigated with being both communist and disloyal. It is apparent that, as usual, McCarthy’s charges far outrun any evidence he had on which to base such charges.
A final item that can be included, though by no means all that are available, is a column the past week by Walter Lippmann, generally friendly to the administration, and widely read by government people. In that column, Mr. Lippmann waxed very critical of the present administration of the program, and he, too, characterized the mishandling of the Ladejinsky case as “cruel injustice.”
To what do all these comments add up? What is their particular significance to people of religion? Several observations emerge somewhat naturally in answer to these questions. All loyal citizens, religious or otherwise, want an effective security system. We believe that we can have one that will protect us from aggression from without and subversion within, and will, at the same time, protect the basic individual rights of the individual. The scrupulous observance of these rights lies at the foundation of our basic moralities and our tradition as a people. When so many people who are of widely divergent convictions about politics and other matters agree upon the weaknesses in our present security system, it is convincing proof that men of good will everywhere should be concerned about the matter. There is nothing moral in injustice, whether it be at the hands of a vigilante committee or of a duly constituted but badly operating governmental agency. We neither need nor want in this country a Gestapo of the Nazi variety nor the purge trials of the Soviet band. Neither will be foisted upon us all at once, but either could easily become a reality if we begin by undermining due process a little here and a little more there until gradually due process and the right to be heard in court by the individual are trampled out in the name of a well-meaning but misguided security board, for security has, in the minds of some, come to cover a multitude of sins.
In his State of the Union message to Congress recently, the president aptly stated that our struggle at the present time is not over forms of government or economic theories but is one of human values, a difference over our conceptions of the true nature of man. In his words, man is “either … the creature whom the psalmist described as ‘a little lower than the angels,’ crowned with glory and honor … or man is a soulless animated machine to be enslaved, used, and consumed by the state for its own glorification.”
This is a definition and a distinction with which most of us, certainly all of religious convictions, can well agree. It was well-stated.
However, in his budget message to Congress this week, the president recommended that we embark upon a 10-year road building program that will mean eventual expenditures of some $101 billion, or over $10 billion a year. That same budget recommended expenditures for slightly more than $2 billion for health, education, and welfare. It would seem, then, that when it comes to glittering generalities, man is endowed with divine attributes, but when it comes to expenditures to nurture those attributes, such as funds to maintain his health, educate his children, and provide welfare for the needy, man rates only about one-fifth as important as highways. This country can afford both schools and highways, and for most of us, if we had to choose one or the other, we would place schools first, for highways can wait, but the education of growing children cannot. Perhaps we little people are not expected to look for consistency between precept and practice on the part of our public officials. If we are, our search in this instance proves unrewarding, and it comes at a time when according to the N.E.A. we have a shortage of 270,000 classrooms and 235,000 teachers, with some one million pupils now in school on a part-time basis because of lack of physical facilities and instructional staff.
To a Roman Catholic priest is due a large share of the praise of ending the three-and-a-half day convict revolt at the Massachusetts State Prison in Boston. The Rev. Edward Hartigan, Catholic chaplain of the prison, spent many hours conferring with the rebellious prisoners, hearing their grievances and trying to persuade them to give up. Father Hartigan also heard confession and gave Holy Communion to the four Catholics among the five guards held as hostages. Also playing a part in the talks was the prison’s Protestant chaplain, the Rev. Howard Kellett. The slim, seemingly tireless Father Hartigan was also a figure in a rebellion at the prison in 1952. Then he stayed all night with the barricaded prisoners, talked with them, and calmed them and helped in the release of two guards as hostages.
In London a radio debate took place between a proponent of atheism and the wife of a minister. The debate came about because Mrs. Margaret Knight advocated morals without religion in two previous broadcasts. These broadcasts caused Britons to boil and bubble as they had not done for years over a religious controversy. The newspapers and churches took up the issue, and there were proponents and opponents among them both. Time magazine treats the matter in some detail in its issue of January 24, in case you wish for further comments that cannot be included here.
Merger of the three main Presbyterian bodies in the U.S. is apparently not hopeless, despite defeat of the union by the Southern Presbyterians this week. A revised unity plan is considered likely for the future. The Presbyterians of the South gave as among their reasons that Northern Presbyterians are too liberal and that their 757,000 membership might be swallowed by the 2.5 million members that comprise the Northern branch. Some observers thought that the issue of segregation would enter into the voting, but South Presbyterians have said it did not. The proposal needed 64 votes, or three-fourths of the 86 districts. It failed of passage by four votes. It was the Southern Presbyterians who initiated the merger talks back in 1938.
The underlying assumption of this program is that many items appearing in the news have religious significance, though they may not be headlined as such, and that religion is a matter of every day practice rather than merely a holy day precept. An opportunity to put it into practice occurred in this section this week, and the station authorities have permitted me to bring it to you. Last Friday the home of Mr. Sherman Carver of the Greenwood community burned down, destroying family belongings, furniture, and everything he had. He and his family have arranged for temporary shelter, but they have use for and will welcome assistance of any kind: financial, household items, or wearing apparel. The Methodist Church of Jonesboro urges any help that you can give. If you wish to contribute money, send it to the church at Jonesboro. If you have clothing or household utensils to contribute, call Mr. Raymond Miller, telephone number Jonesboro 4542, who will call at your home for them. There are eight children ranging in age from 3 to 6 years.